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MOSCOW, April 11 President Vladimir Putin said
on Friday that Russia would fulfill its obligations to European
gas clients and had no plans to halt deliveries to Ukraine
although Moscow could make Kiev pay in advance for deliveries.
Putin's remarks appeared aimed at easing concerns in Europe
but keeping pressure on Ukraine to pay its $2.2 billion debt for
Russian gas and blaming Kiev for any disruptions in supplies
across its territory to European consumers.
"I want to say again: We do not intend and do not plan to
shut off the gas for Ukraine," Putin said in televised comments
at a meeting of his advisory Security Council.
But he added that his government had proposed demanding
payment in advance from Ukraine for future supplies.
"We guarantee fulfillment of all our obligations to our
European consumers. The question is not about us. The question
is about providing transit across Ukraine," he said, suggesting
Ukraine might seek to siphon the gas meant for Europe if Russia
reduced supplies meant for Ukrainian consumption.
Putin sent a letter to the leaders of 18 European countries
that buy Russian gas on Thursday, warning that deliveries could
be disrupted if state-controlled Gazprom cut supplies
to Ukraine and calling for urgent talks to seek a solution.
Putin's spokesman said earlier on Friday that the European
nations had not yet responded to the letter, which prompted the
United States to accuse Russia of using energy as a "tool of
coercion" amid the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Alexei Anishchuk, Editing
by Steve Gutterman and Timothy Heritage)